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Steps to Proper Notarization

Notary Acts that Relate to Photographs

In the past, photographs took several days to produce. Today, anyone can walk into Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart and have a set of passport photos in 10 minutes. A picture of an object can be produced instantly by snapping the image with a smart phone and wirelessly sending it to a printer.

As the ease of obtaining photos increases, so do the requests that notaries receive regarding them. Among others, photo-related notarizations are requested for the purpose of identifying a person, providing a witness’s statement, or as evidence to prove that a certain thing occurred on a certain date.

In order to adapt to the needs of citizens, notaries want to learn how to assist citizens while not breaking rules. In this issue of the emailed newsletter, the American Association of Notaries (AAN) will offer suggestions on how to handle interesting photo-related issues that readers have introduced. The topics covered are:

Documents that require a notary seal to overlap a photograph;
“Notarizing a photograph” request;
Certified copies of photographs;
Certifying that a photo is the likeness of a person; and
Photographing copies of ID documents.

Documents that require a notary seal to overlap a photograph.

Suppose that a client presents the notary with a document with the client’s picture firmly glued on it. The language on the document clearly instructs the notary to place his or her inked seal on the paper so that it overlaps the photo and about half of the seal is on it. There is a place of the client to sign. A jurat or acknowledgment appears at the bottom of the document.

This scenario is the first in today’s line up of photograph/notary issues because the AAN cannot provide a single answer to satisfy all notaries’ laws. However, below are practical points for consideration.

-There must be a place for the client to execute the document and an adequate notarial certificate attached to the document. You cannot place the stamp as requested without those two items.

-This is not a request to notarize a photograph. The notary is notarizing a client’s signature on a document that makes many critical statements about the signer.

-Be cautious if the document is actually asking that the notary certify that the person in the picture is the same person as the client. Only a few states allow notaries to “certify” certain things. One way to check to make sure that you are not being asked to “certify” is to ensure that the notarial certificate meets the requirements of your state’s laws.

-This request is more common that one would think. The document is usually vital to the client’s future. For instance, to take an ACT test, an important test for college acceptance, a student is instructed ,“You must sign this statement in ink in the presence of the notary public, who must affix the notary seal or stamp overlapping a portion of the photo.”This is only one of many types of requests that relate to adoptions, citizenship, education, government, and employment. Some of the requests are made by state and federal agencies.

-Where laws do not exist that say that a notary may not place his or her seal overlapping a photograph as requested, a notary should be able to proceed without concern.

-Where there is no law in one’s state against placing two seals on a document, a notary should be able to place the seal as requested, as well as one on the certificate.

-Caution the client that the ink from the seal will smudge where the seal covers the photograph. Holding the document in front of a fan will decrease drying time.

-Find out if the document will leave the country and will require authentication or an apostille. If so, query your authentications office and ask their opinion on this act. There should be no problem with proceeding if the office will authenticate your notary signature on the document. If you cannot get an answer right away, advise the client that the document is a little unusual because of the stamp over the photo and that there may be a problem with authenticating it.

-Many readers will be concerned that the AAN has not taken the position that all notaries should reject all requests of this nature. The AAN provides practical insight for notaries based on issues that affect their duties. These requests are made more often than in years past their purpose is to establish identification where a photo will be used to identify the holder in the future.

-Note this act in your journal in detail. Include that you advised the client of the unusual nature of the seal and any other important facts. Have the client sign your journal.

Clients need these documents for genuine purposes and should not be turned away simply because the request is unusual. It is not practical to reject requests in states where this act does not go against the states’ notary laws. Look ahead and plan how you will handle this situation!

“Notarizing a photograph” request.

Notaries do not notarize photographs. A notary cannot simply place a date, seal, and signature over a photograph or on the back of it. Clients usually ask notaries to notarize photographs because they want to record that the picture was in existence on the date of the notary’s signature and seal. Those who make these requests may be contest participants, inventors, writers, students, residents of rental property, etc.

A client should write a statement about the photograph, securely attach the photograph to the statement, and allow the notary to notarize the statements made about the photograph.

Clients could also use a user a high quality color copier or a scanner to put a digital image of the photo directly onto the paper that the statement about the photograph has been written.

A statement for this purpose could be, “I declare that the boat in the image above is my boat. I purchased it on xx/xx/xx.” The client would sign it and pick an acknowledgment or jurat for the notary to complete.

One should record the details of this act in his or her journal.

Certified copies of photographs.

Many states’ notaries may certify or attest that a copy of a document is a true copy of the original. The document must be described in the notary’s certificate. It is very difficult for a notary to accurately describe a photograph. Furthermore, if the photograph is a picture of the client, it puts the notary into the position of describing and certifying a true and correct copy of a photograph bearing the client’s image. That is not in the scope of duties for most notaries and should be avoided.

Therefore, it is impractical for notaries to consider certifying copies of photographs UNLESS the image is attached to a document and the document has text to describe the photograph or a title for the document. It is even better if the document is dated. If the document is signed, you can add the signer’s name to the description in your certificate.

Certifying a copy of a document is not the same as the notarization of a signature. Note that the document bearing the photo does not have to be signed by the custodian. However, it may be signed by the custodian or another person.

The proper procedure is for the notary to make a copy of the document that bears the image and attach the appropriate certificate. We recommend that notaries make the copies to certify or attest to, even if their laws allow them to look at a copy supplied by the client and compare it to the original. Inconsistent details in documents, especially those with photographs in them, can be overlooked.

After the notary makes the copy, he or she will describe the document in the certificate based on the contents of the document. For instance, the description of the document could be stated like the example below.


“…made by me from the original document entitled Draw Inspector’s Photograph of 200 Duck Street, dated xx/xx/xx, and being one page in length,…”


Below is a typical certificate. The description above would be inserted into the certificate to replace “(Description of Document).”


State of ______________
County of ____________

On this ___ day of _________, 20___, I certify that the foregoing or attached document is a true, exact, complete, and accurate photocopy made by me from the original document (Description of Document), presented to me by the document’s custodian, (Document Custodian’s Name) and that, to the best of my knowledge, the photocopied document is neither a public record nor a publicly recorded document, certified copies of which are available from an official source other than a notary public.
Signature of Notary SEAL


Have the client sign your notary journal. Record all information about the document that you certified as a true copy.

Please note that many states do not allow notaries to make certified copies of documents. Furthermore, Florida notaries “attest” to the exactness of copies; they do not certify.

In states where notaries cannot certify or attest copies, a copy of a document with a statement by its custodian may satisfy his or her needs. He or she could write a statement on the document that says something similar to, “I declare (swear or affirm) that the foregoing or attached document is a true, exact, complete, and accurate photocopy of (Description of Document and photograph) made by me from the original document.”

After the statement is written by the custodian of the document, he or she should select a jurat or an acknowledgment for the notary to complete. Again, the notary should make a journal entry that includes all necessary details and have the signer execute the entry.

Certifying that a photo is the likeness of a person.

Often, a citizen will appear before a notary with a picture of him- or herself and a document that says that a notary must certify that the picture is the citizen.

Few states have given notaries the authority to certify things that they have personal knowledge of, although they may proceed according to their laws in states where that authority exists.

In states where one cannot certify that a photo is a likeness of a person, that person may write a signed statement to that effect on the document that has the picture attached to or placed on it.

After the person chooses either a jurat or an acknowledgment certificate, he or she signs the document and the notary can notarize his or her statement. This method should provide what the document requestor seeks. The document will bear a notary seal and certificate and it should be apparent to the document recipient that it would be unthinkable for a notary to notarize a statement that was blatantly false.

Photographing copies of ID documents for proof.

Readers have asked if they should use their digital cameras or smart phone technology to capture images of their client’s ID documentation. The purpose for this would be to archive the images to prove that they have positively identified signers. Notaries seldom have the level of digital security to protect the sensitive data that they would be storing on their personal digital repositories. The AAN strongly discourages that practice and discourages the practice of keeping paper copies of ID documents in notary records. Those practices could be illegal in many states.

Notary signing agents are often instructed to return a copy of the borrower’s ID with the loan documents. Borrowers seldom remember to produce those copies at signing appointments. Notary signing agents digitally capture photographs of ID documents on cameras or phones while on signing assignments to mitigate the borrowers’ forgetfulness. When signing agents do this, they must be certain to erase the ID once they have printed the copy to return with the package. The AAN does not necessarily condone or express disapproval of this practice. In our opinion, a better way to handle this situation is to consider having borrowers fax copies of ID to the parties who want them. Handling and storing images of ID documents is better left to lenders.

Questions about photographs involved in notary acts?

If you have questions about acts similar to the ones described above, or other questions that relate to your duties as a notary, please write us at ; or, post your questions on our Facebook page. We enjoy hearing from you.

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Notice of Disclaimer: The information provided herein is not intended to be an authoritative statement of law. Notary laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and may be interpreted or applied differently depending on your state’s statutes or situations. By providing this information, we are not acting as your attorney. We are providing this information based on long-established and recognized notarial standards and practices. If you have legal questions regarding acts or conduct as a notary public, please consult with an attorney or refer to your state’s statutes or other appropriate legal resources.

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